Archives For IBSA Annual Meeting

By Meredith Flynn

On our state’s bicentennial, the resolve of its early settlers has new meaning for Baptists.

Settlers arriving in the Illinois territory in the early 1800s didn’t know what to make of what they found. History tells us many of them moved north from areas that were heavily wooded. They trusted land that could support so many trees. The Illinois prairie offered no such reassurance.

“The prairies posed a new set of problems for farmers,” writes historian Pamela Riney-Kehrberg. “Below the land’s surface were tough, fibrous roots of tall prairie grasses, extending downward a foot or more. A simple wooden plow could hardly penetrate the surface.”

The pioneers made do by settling mostly in the southern part of the state, where ready access to water and trees made constructing their homes and farms more feasible. Some, though, eventually headed north, and found a way to work the hard prairie soil. It was richer than they thought, historians say. They just needed different tools. Steel, instead of wood.

Industrial pioneers John Deere and Cyrus McCormick developed tools for farming the prairie lands. And Illinois boomed. Its statehood population in 1818 was 35,000. By 1830, it had grown to 157,000, and would triple over the next decade. Still, tending the land was expensive. Families sacrificed much, Riney-Kehrberg notes, to run even a modest farm.

Two hundred years later, the challenges of tilling the soil in Illinois are different. But they still exist, especially in spiritual terms. More than 8 million people in Illinois do not know Christ. Many churches are struggling against the cultural tide to see real transformation in their communities.

Blue map copy

“I have often said that even though Illinois is the second flattest state in America, being Baptist here is an uphill climb,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “Baptists have always been somewhat counter-cultural and a minority in Illinois, but that used to be because larger groups of people from different religious cultures had settled the state.

“Now it’s because the culture overall has become less and less religious, and arguably more hardened to the gospel message.”

Like Illinois’ early settlers found years ago, sometimes hard soil calls for new tools. Last year, IBSA presented four challenges to renew “pioneering spirit” among Baptists in Illinois. (Read more about the challenges at pioneeringspirit.org.)

These “new tools” are actually tried-and-true church practices: evangelism, church planting, sacrificial giving, and raising up new generations of leaders.

“The widespread and growing lostness of our state compels us to think in new ways. Maybe old ways,” said Van Kicklighter, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Planting Team. “The pioneers of Illinois and parts west came to those territories knowing that if they didn’t bring the gospel with them, it just would not be present. We need that same kind of spirit and thinking today.”

‘Time to do something’
After the 2017 IBSA Annual Meeting, David Starr led his church to tackle all four of the Pioneering Spirit challenges. His congregation, Community Southern Baptist Church in Clay City, is employing these new tools to make a difference in Illinois, especially in places where there is no IBSA church.

Starr approached Joe Lawson, director of missions for Louisville Baptist Association, about starting an association-wide prayer emphasis for the 10 counties in Illinois without an IBSA church. Community Southern, which averages around 70 in worship attendance, was assigned Carroll County in northwest Illinois. They started praying. Then, they took action.

“There’s a time to pray, and there’s a time to do something,” Starr said. He spoke with IBSA staff in Springfield and leaders in northwest Illinois, planning a mission trip that would be focused on assessing needs in the region. In July, Starr and his wife and another couple from their church traveled more than 300 miles along a diagonal line from Clay City to Savanna, Ill.

During their trip, they met with a church planter in Galena for a Monday night Bible study. Then, they knocked on doors. Starr said the small team visited 70% of the homes in the focus area, and found 21 people or families who wanted to commit themselves to seeing a Southern Baptist church planted there.

“We watch God,” Starr said. “He’s done everything.”

The team also saw physical need in Carroll County. The region has lost jobs in two big industries—railroad and lumber. There’s poverty and hunger. A woman who the team encountered ran into them later at a local store. “Don’t forget us,” she said.

Starr’s team went back home to Clay City, but they’ve continued to pray. There’s a map on the church bulletin board showing the streets they visited, and printed prayer reminders for the congregation.

Along with the challenge to go new places with the gospel, Community Southern is keeping up with the other Pioneering Spirit commitments. They increased missions giving through the Cooperative Program, are working to enlist new leaders, and celebrated one baptism on One GRAND Sunday, a statewide baptism emphasis in April.

“Here is a pastor and church that captured the pioneering spirit,” Kicklighter said. “They heard about a place where there was a compelling need, and they decided to do something about it.

“We need lots of Illinois Baptist churches with this kind of passion and willingness—a pioneering spirit.”

Starr said he’s never seen anything like it in his years of ministry. His church is investing willingly in other people and places. Like Illinois’ early settlers, they’re tilling the hard soil, and using less familiar tools to do so.

“We watch God,” Starr said. “He’s done everything.”

– Meredith Flynn, with info from History.com and “The Historical Development of Agriculture in Illinois” by Pamela Riney-Kehrberg

Pioneering-200-logo-layers-260x300By Meredith Flynn

When Illinois Baptists gather Nov. 7-8, a familiar refrain will be in the air. No, not the state song, although “Illinois, Illinois” certainly fits the meeting’s theme. The 2018 IBSA Annual Meeting at First Baptist Church, Maryville, will observe our state’s bicentennial as part of a celebration of God’s work through Illinois Baptist churches across two centuries.

The meeting will also revisit the “Pioneering Spirit” emphasis, shedding light on how IBSA churches have over the past year embraced challenges to go new places, engage new people, make new sacrifices, and develop new leaders—all so more people in Illinois might hear and respond to the gospel.

First Baptist Church, Maryville, will host the 2018 Annual Meeting, preceded by the IBSA Pastors’ Conference Nov. 6-7.

Along with stories of churches who have embraced the Pioneering Spirit challenges, the Annual Meeting will feature reports from ministry partners, music by worship band Sixteen Cities, and a visit from Honest Abe himself, as portrayed by veteran Lincoln interpreter Fritz Klein.

IBSA President Adron Robinson will preach the president’s message during the Wednesday afternoon session, and Tom Hufty, senior pastor of FBC Maryville, will bring the annual sermon Thursday morning.

Annual Meeting and Pastors’ Conference information is available at IBSAannualmeeting.org, along with historical highlights, meeting logistics, and a checklist for messengers to the Annual Meeting.

The little cabin on the prairie that served as a mini-museum of Illinois history last year will return to the Annual Meeting as a house of prayer. The log cabin will feature visual displays about Illinois’ mission field, both historic and present-day.

From the cabin just inside the front entrance of the church building, messengers and guests can tour the facility using a printed guide. At stops along the way, they will be encouraged to pray for ministries in IBSA churches, based on the activities that will happen at those locations during the annual meeting. For example, pastors’ wives will meet in the FBC chapel, so that space becomes the spot to pray for pastors’ wives and families, at any time during the three-day gathering.

“We’re asking God to stir a movement of prayer for mission and ministry, to build up strong churches across our state,” said IBSA’s Eric Reed, one of the planners of the prayer tour.

“God can move our hearts to beat in rhythm with his, for the salvation of lost people in Illinois, and strengthen his disciples to represent Jesus here, where he is so desperately needed.”

Counting to 200
When the Pioneering Spirit challenges were presented last year, the goal was for at least 200 IBSA churches to accept one or more of them. To date, 184 churches have done so.

“We knew from the outset that not every IBSA church would register a commitment to the Pioneering Spirit challenges, as much as we wish they might, because these challenges require great intentionality,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams.

“That’s why the goal is 200 churches, not just to match the Illinois bicentennial, but because that will be about 20% of all IBSA churches, and we think that’s about the percentage that will really want to work these challenges.”

Adams said IBSA has continued to invite churches to consider the challenges during local associational annual meetings this fall, and will do so again at the IBSA Annual Meeting in Maryville.

“I believe we will have more than 200 church commitments by the Annual Meeting, and we are eager to work with those churches, and to see them become an inspiration to many others to bear fruit in these important areas.”

Next stop: Maryville
Messengers and visitors to the IBSA Annual Meeting can reserve tickets for onsite evening meals Tuesday and Wednesday at IBSAannualmeeting.org. The Tuesday evening meal following the Pastors’ Conference afternoon sessions will be provided by Ravanelli’s Catering and feature their famous pressure fried chicken, slow roasted beef with gravy, baked rigatoni, mash potatoes and gravy, buttered corn, salad, bread, and
dessert. Tickets are $10 per person.

The Wednesday evening meal catered by Fire-N-Smoke will feature smoked chicken topped with cranberry barbecue sauce, pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, green beans, salad, bread, and dessert. Tickets are $12 per person.

Childcare will be provided by the Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief Childcare team. For more information or to reserve childcare, contact Barb Troeger at (217) 391-3123 or BarbTroeger@IBSA.org.

What really counts

Lisa Misner —  October 1, 2018

Pioneering-200-logo-layers-260x300By Nate Adams

Big birthdays have a way of getting our attention, as they should. Sometimes they even alarm us. Can my parents, or grandparents, really be 80? Am I really 50? Is my church really a hundred? Time really does seem to fly, whether you’re having fun or not.

And so maybe it snuck up on you that our home state turns 200 this year. One verse from the Illinois state song reminds us, “Eighteen-eighteen saw your founding, Illinois, Illinois.” Don’t worry, though, there’s still time to buy a gift. While the official seal of Illinois bears the date August 26, 1818, that was when the first state constitution was ratified. It wasn’t until December 3 that the U.S. government formally made Illinois the 21st state of the union.

And while the Illinois bicentennial may be receiving less fanfare than the national one back in 1976, this big birthday should still be getting our attention. There were only about 35,000 people in Illinois in 1818, but today there are at least 8.2 million who do not claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. These two hundred years have brought a lot of people into our state mission field, and our Great Commission challenge as churches here is now bigger than ever.

That’s why we are embracing the Illinois bicentennial in our theme for this year’s IBSA Annual Meeting, “Pioneering Spirit – 200 and Counting.” As we now count two hundred years of statehood, we are also asking “what should we be counting?” and “what should really count?” today, if we are to have the same pioneering spirit as our Baptist forebears.

Beginning with last year’s annual meeting, IBSA has been challenging Illinois Baptist churches and leaders to join together and “count to 200” in four strategic, missional ways:

First, we have identified 200 places or people groups in Illinois where a new church is desperately needed. We are inviting churches to adopt one or more of those 200 by praying for them, or partnering with resources or volunteers, or actually sponsoring the plant as the mother church.

Second, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will seek to become more frequently baptizing churches, by setting annual baptism goals and equipping their members to intentionally have gospel conversations and participate in evangelistic events and mission trips. We are praying for churches that will set their sights on baptizing at least once a month, or more than their previous 3-year average.

Third, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will commit a specific percentage of their annual budgets to Cooperative Program missions, and then seek to increase that percentage annually toward 10% or more.

And finally, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will commit to intentional leadership development processes—not only for the pastor and current leaders, but also for tomorrow’s pastors, church planters, and missionaries.

You can learn more about these commitments, and register your church’s pledge to them, by visiting pioneeringspirit.org, or by calling John Carruthers at (217) 391-3110. There are currently 166 churches that have registered a commitment, and we are hoping to celebrate 200, in more ways than one, when we gather at First Baptist Maryville for the IBSA Annual Meeting.

Of course, some churches are fulfilling one or more of these challenges already. But for the overwhelming majority of IBSA churches, these challenges will be a major stretch. In fact, as our Annual Meeting theme suggests, moving beyond our status quo into these types of commitments will take a true “pioneering spirit.” It’s the kind of spirit that brought Baptist pioneers to Illinois more than 200 years ago.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Lincoln and HomeThe Illinois territory became a state in 1818. Now 200 years old, the bicentennial of statehood serves to inspire IBSA’s 2018 Annual Meeting. With the theme “200 & Counting,” the meeting will focus on the Pioneering Spirit commitments made by IBSA churches since the emphasis was unveiled at the 2017 meeting.

The yearly gathering, scheduled for November 7-8, will be hosted by First Baptist Church of Maryville. Tom Hufty, pastor of the host church, will bring the annual sermon, and IBSA President Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in the Chicago suburb of Country Club Hills, will bring the president’s address.

Pioneering-200-logo-layers-260x300Worship will be led by Sixteen Cities, a professional musical group comprised mostly of Southern Baptist worship pastors and leaders. And a special appearance by Abraham Lincoln is expected, in the person of Fritz Klein, well known in the Springfield area for his remarkable interpretation of the sixteenth president.

With the meeting’s “200” focus, IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams pointed out that the state’s bicentennial will be celebrated, but the real emphasis is the IBSA churches that accepted the challenges in church planting, evangelism, missions giving, and leadership development over the past year. The courageous spirit of Illinois’ pioneers is alive on the spiritual frontier today.

Dinner is available for IBSA Annual Meeting attenders on Wednesday evening. Tickets are $12; to reserve a meal, go to IBSAannualmeeting.org.

IBSA Pastors’ Conference
The IBSA Pastors’ Conference Nov. 6-7 will feature messages from four preachers on “Blazing New Trails.” The theme is from Rev. 2:1-5, which urges the early church at Ephesus to persevere in their commitment to Christ.

Urban church planting specialist Darryl Gaddy and St. Louis pastor Noah Oldham will join IBSA pastors Matt Crain and Ted Max as Pastors’ Conference speakers. The conference will also feature breakout sessions on racial unity, engaging cultures, and church planting, among other topics.

The Pastors’ Conference begins at 1 p.m. Tuesday at FBC Maryville and concludes at noon Wednesday, prior to the start of the IBSA Annual Meeting. Dinner is available onsite Tuesday for $10. To reserve a ticket, go to IBSAannualmeeting.org.

And a special preview of all the festivities, with times and locations, will be included in the October 8 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

800px-Sangamon_County_Courthouse_2017

A hearing is set for the lawsuit on December 7 at the Sangamon County Courthouse (pictured) in Springfield. Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Larry D. Moore

A law firm representing religious liberty concerns has filed a lawsuit to stop the January 1 implementation of taxpayer-funded abortions in Illinois.

The Chicago-based Thomas More Society filed suit in the Sangamon County Circuit Court on behalf of several legislators and pro-life groups who are opposing House Bill 40, which would provide coverage for abortions through Medicaid and state employees’ health insurance plans. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner originally pledged to veto the bill if it came to his desk, but signed it into law Sept. 28—to the dismay of Christians and pro-life advocates.

The lawsuit argues the General Assembly has not set aside funds in the state’s budget to pay for the abortions and remain within the Balanced Budget requirements of the Illinois Constitution. It also contends, according to the Thomas More Society, that the law cannot become effective until June 1 because it missed a May 31 cut-off date for General Assembly action.

“Regardless of your feelings about abortion, it is incredibly fiscally irresponsible to enact a law designed to spend millions of dollars that Illinois does not have,” said Thomas More Society Special Counsel Peter Breen in a press release. “The state legislative process has steps that must be correctly followed in order to prevent budget-busting laws like this from being ramrodded through. It is part of our civic process of checks and balances.”

The suit, filed in the Sangamon County Circuit Court, is “brought on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Illinois taxpayers, represented by county and statewide pro-life organizations, the Springfield Catholic Diocese, and a group of Illinois legislators from across the state,” according to the press release. A hearing is set for December 7 at the Sangamon County Courthouse.

In November, messengers to the IBSA Annual Meeting passed a resolution calling for the repeal of HB 40, pledging support for “the rights of the unborn,” and claiming “all human life is God-given and sacred, and should be protected by moral and righteous government.”

After Rauner signed the measure into law, IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams said in a statement, “I join with Illinois Baptists and many others in Illinois who stand for the unborn in expressing great disappointment with the action of Governor Bruce Rauner on Illinois House Bill 40. Taxpayers’ money should not be used to fund abortions in any circumstance.”

Conservative legislators also have criticized Rauner’s actions on HB 40, including State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton), who is working to get on the primary ballot against Rauner in March.

“He lied to us,” Ives said in an Associated Press article last month. “None of us trust him anymore.”

If implemented, HB 40 also amends the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975 to remove language declaring that an unborn child is a human being from the time of conception, and would allow Illinois to continue to perform abortions should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade.

-Lisa Misner Sergent

What is Pioneering Spirit?

ib2newseditor —  November 28, 2017

Churches urged to take lessons from Illinois’ early settlers

You know the pioneer in the video you made, Stephen Stilley?” the woman said. “I’m his great niece. Seven greats.”

Stilley was a veteran of the War of 1812 who returned home to Illinois to continue the church planting work he started before joining the army at age 47. Stilley’s name is on a plaque outside First Baptist Church of Elizabethtown, founded in 1806. It’s IBSA’s oldest continually operating congregation, and one of four IBSA churches that predate Illinois’ statehood in 1818.

FBC Elizabethtown

“When I heard his name, my ears perked up,” said Sheila Jessen, assistant for the Baptist Foundation of Illinois. “My maiden name is Stilley.

“I went home and looked it up in our genealogy,” she continued. “My great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather John was Stephen Stilley’s brother. I’m the niece of a Baptist pioneer,” she said, her eyes welling up a little. “It’s beginning to make sense why I’m at IBSA.”

The descendant of one of the pioneering forebears was having a moment that could be common to all Illinois Baptists: realizing that we are descendants of hearty stock, both spiritual and literal, and in their pioneering DNA we find the fortitude to inhabit the land and build the Kingdom.

With the observation of Illinois’ 200th anniversary set to begin in 2018, IBSA offered a new call to spread the gospel across the state.

“What are we going to do to get off of the flat line we are on as Illinois Baptists?” Executive Director Nate Adams asked at the Annual Meeting. Adams outlined a four-fold plan to engage churches in new commitments to church planting, evangelism, missions-giving, and leader development. “We think these are at the very core of what it means to have a pioneering spirit.”

As with the pioneers in the early 19th century, the need of the 21st century is brave souls willing to do whatever it takes to stake new territory, taking the gospel where it has never been before. The goal is to have 200 or more churches committed to each of the four challenges.

Roles and role models
Throughout the meeting, the theme was interpreted with a series of interviews. First up, a couple who found in her family tree inspiration to go to a new place to plant a new church.

Bryan and Marci Coble moved their family from Texas, where he was in seminary, to Chicago. After briefly considering planting a church in Portland, Oregon, the Cobles felt led to explore Marci’s home state. Her grandmother sent them a clipping from the Illinois Baptist saying more churches are needed in Chicago.

But there was another influence. Marci, who grew up in Chatham, is the granddaughter of former IBSA executive director Maurice Swinford (1988-1993). “He was like a second father to me,” she said at the meeting in Decatur. “He encouraged me and invested in my life. He planted those seeds of leadership in my life.”

New places

Answering the call to church planting led the couple to the Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago, a diverse community of Anglo, Hispanic, African American, and Asian people on the city’s north side. The location explains why Bryan wore a Chicago Cubs cap for 30 days during their exploration process. Could this diehard Cards fan from Missouri minister successfully in the heart of Cubs territory? During that month, Bryan felt a growing love for the city and its lost people.

Across Illinois, there are more than 200 places and people groups in need of an evangelical church. There are many places similar to the Cobles’ neighborhood. Many are in highly populated urban areas. Many are in small towns and rural crossroads. In all of them, gospel-teaching Baptist churches are needed.

The church planting challenge is for churches to pray for new congregations, partner with a church planter to assist his work, or to lead in the planting of a new congregation.
Talking about Jesus

Pat Pajak shares Christ everywhere—even in the hospital where he had open-heart surgery. Pat told his story to show the pioneering need to engage people with the gospel. “We need to believe that God can do a marvelous thing in our church,” Pajak said. “There are lost people all around us.”

Pajak described two emphases that will be part of his work as IBSA’s Associate Executive Director for evangelism in 2018. One of them is part of a larger project led by the North American Mission Board: Gospel Conversations. Talking about Jesus is the simple calling of every believer, but many are shy to speak up. NAMB’s goal is to register one-million gospel conversations prior to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in June. NAMB has created a website where church members can report their personal conversations with lost people. There are also short videos from people sharing their “conversation” experiences. (GCChallenge.com)

new people

Pajak announced an IBSA project to baptize 1,000 people on April 8, 2018. “One GRAND Sunday” follows Easter, with the intent that witness training and gospel conversations will lead to baptisms. “We have 8 million-plus people in the state of Illinois who don’t know Jesus,” Pajak said.

This is an evangelism challenge. “We’re praying that 200 of our IBSA churches will baptize 12 people next year,” or more than the church’s previous three-year average. The hope is that churches will turn the decline in baptisms by setting evangelism goals and equipping members to share their faith, and by engaging lost people through evangelistic events and mission trips.

The commitment is for IBSA churches to become “frequently baptizing churches.”

Walking the walk
Lindsey Yoder charmed the crowd with her account of walking from Arthur, Illinois to Nashville, Tennessee: 300 miles in 27 days. The teenager first learned about human trafficking at an AWSOM weekend for teen girls, led by Illinois Baptist Women. Then, a movie on the subject convinced Lindsey that she must do something to help free young women, girls, and boys caught in the sex trade worldwide. Even in Illinois people are forced into sexual subservience. The most common route for bringing them into the state is along I-55 from St. Louis to Chicago.

Lindsey’s story is one of sacrifice.

A 14-year-old girl from central Illinois doesn’t often take on such a massive and awful cause. But this one did, one step at a time.

“It felt like I wanted to quit a lot. I refused to quit. I don’t like to quit. Sometimes putting one foot in front of the other is a lot harder than it sounds,” Lindsey said. And yet, she kept walking. On the journey she raised enough money to sponsor two “rescues” in a South Asian country.

Such sacrifice is what it takes to save people enslaved by sin.

Lindsay’s mother, Regina, who handled logistics for the trip and followed her all the way, said the support of their church was crucial. The people of Arthur Southern Baptist Church encouraged the teen and contributed to her cause, and by their example showed how Southern Baptists everywhere give for missions.

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ best channel for supporting life-saving missions. With regular, systematic, percentage giving from its offerings, each church makes the sacrifice each week. The need calls us to greater sacrifice.

New sacrifices

Here’s how Nate Adams described this missions-giving challenge. “We’re asking churches to make missions-giving a higher priority in your budget. We’re asking would your church be willing to make CP a greater percentage of your budget—if the Lord would lead you to make new sacrifices to give through CP.”

The Pioneering Spirit commitment is for 200 or more churches to increase CP giving (for example, 1% per year) with a goal of reaching at least 10% of undesignated offerings.

Follow the leader
Roger Marshall said in his first 10 years as pastor of FBC Effingham, he conducted 150 funerals. Raising up new leaders was not an option, it was imperative. So he began to pray. “God really does identify new leaders,” he said. “It’s not just about finding new slots. It’s really about finding God’s person.”

New leaders

Roger was on the platform with his brother, David, who recently retired as associate pastor at Mt. Zion, and their father, Frank, a 63-year veteran of ministry who is 94.
“Be the kind of leader someone ought to follow,” David said. “That’s what my father was.”
The senior Marshall’s advice for leader development: help people identify their spiritual gifts and put them to use. And “don’t blame someone else for what you are…. Live your responsibility.”

This is a leadership challenge. IBSA’s Mark Emerson urged pastors to commit to leadership development for current members and potential young leaders. The goal is for 200 or more churches to have intentional development processes in place.

During the Annual Meeting, 53 IBSA churches made one or more of these commitments.
As Illinois itself turns 200, it’s clear the work of Baptist pioneers, begun by Stilley and others, is as much needed today as when the state was founded.

WATCH IT
See the video about four early Baptist pioneers in Illinois. Two current pastors tell the stories of the first church planters, starting with New Design near the Mississippi River in 1796.

Plus, watch the videos about the ministry of the Cobles (“Heart for the City”) and Pat Pajak (“Sharing Christ Everywhere”).

TAKE THE CHALLENGE
Read more about the four Pioneering Spirit challenges and how IBSA can help your church with training, goal-setting, and ministry partnership. Register your church’s commitment online.

Counting to 200

ib2newseditor —  November 6, 2017

illinois coat of arms

Illinois became a state on December 3, 1818. And so soon, those who pay attention to such things will begin the one-year countdown to our state’s bicentennial.

Because Illinois is our state mission field, the “Judea” in our churches’ Acts 1:8 missions responsibility, IBSA will be joining the bicentennial celebration with a countdown of our own. Launching at the 2017 IBSA Annual Meeting, and continuing through next year’s Annual Meeting, we are challenging IBSA churches to consider “counting to 200” in four very special ways.

First, we have identified 200 places or people groups in Illinois where a new church is desperately needed. We are inviting churches to adopt one or more of those 200 by praying, or partnering with resources or volunteers, or actually sponsoring the plant as the mother church.

Second, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will seek to become more frequently baptizing churches, by setting annual baptism goals and equipping their members to intentionally have gospel conversations and participate in evangelistic events and mission trips. We are praying for churches that will set their sights on baptizing at least once a month, or more than their previous three-year average.

Third, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will commit a percentage of their annual budgets to Cooperative Program missions, and then seek to increase that percentage annually toward 10% or more.

Potential for true mission advance is through churches that embrace pioneering spirit commitments.

And finally, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will commit to intentional leadership development processes—not only for the pastor and current leaders, but also for future pastors, planters, and missionaries.

Of course, some churches are fulfilling one or more of these challenges already. But for the overwhelming majority of IBSA churches, these challenges will be a major stretch. In fact, as our 2017 Annual Meeting theme suggests, moving beyond our status quo into these types of commitments will take a true “pioneering spirit.” It’s the kind of spirit that brought Baptist pioneers to Illinois more than 200 years ago.

That’s why we at IBSA are asking churches to register their “pioneering spirit” commitments, either now or in the coming months. Not only do we want to celebrate those commitments between the 2017 and 2018 IBSA Annual Meetings, but we also want to give those churches our focused, priority attention as an IBSA staff.

Certainly we will continue to be responsive to the requests and needs of all IBSA churches, and to provide services, resources, consultations, and events throughout the busy year. But we believe that the greatest potential for true mission advance in Illinois will be through churches that embrace these pioneering spirit commitments, and we want to come alongside them in special ways, and give them our priority assistance. We also want to network these churches together, so that they can benefit from one another’s experiences and ministry strategies.

The second verse of our Illinois state song begins, “Eighteen-eighteen saw your founding, Illinois, Illinois, and your progress is unbounding, Illinois, Illinois.” It goes on to remind us of the origin of that unbounding progress. “Pioneers once cleared the lands where great industries now stand. World renown you do command, Illinois, Illinois.”

When you see things like great industries and world renown, it’s usually because a few pioneers paved the way for them. And if we are to see great churches and world impact coming from Illinois Baptists, it will be because a few pioneers sacrificially pave the way. Will your church be one of those first 200 that brings a much-needed pioneering spirit to our state’s bicentennial, and to our mission of seeking and saving the lost here in Illinois?

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org. Read more at IBSA.org/pioneering.